Last August it was time to talk about Justin Langer.
The players spoke, the wounded coach listened, the results turned. Now it’s time for Cricket Australia to move swiftly to re-sign Langer, or risk minimizing the value of winning at the elite level.
It’s worth recapping that the unrest was real and the frustration from the playing group palpable after tours to Bangladesh and the West Indies.
Bubble life undoubtedly exacerbated the issues throughout the 2020/21 summer and into the colder months. At the height of the football codes’ seasons, and with no Test cricket to speak of, cricket (and Langer himself) was still in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Watch every game of the KFC Big Bash League Live & On-Demand on Kayo or catch up for FREE with minis on Kayo Freebies. Join Kayo Now >
NEW PODCAST – Isa Guha: The endless problems with English cricket, Women’s Ashes preview. Listen below or subscribe in iTunes Or Spotify.
Langer could have argued with the criticism around his methods, but he had no choice to heed the feedback. His job depended on it. There were some well connected officials behind the scenes who believed an Australian exit before the T20 World Cup final would have spelled the end of Langer.
Months later in an interview with Adelaide-based sports reporter and former state batsman Theo Doropoulos, Langer recalled the extent of the piercing critique in typically evocative language.
“Everyone was telling me what a bad person I was,” he said to Doropoulos.
“At times, it felt like I was being treated like a criminal, and my only crime is trying to coach the Australian cricket team.
“Last winter was horrible for my family. You hit rock bottom, and you’re the criminal for whatever reason.”
Of course he was not a criminal and it’s doubtful anyone actually called him anything of the sort. But his vivid reference indicates precisely how vilified he felt and how hurt he was.
If – and we can’t be certain – Langer’s suffocating approach and intensity was a key reason for a splattering of losses, then it’s only fair to credit him for the World Cup win in the UAE and the 4-0 Ashes result.
How much of an influence a coach has on results depends on who you listen to, but the criticism directed at him throughout last winter at the very least should be matched by praise now.
Should Cricket Australia not renew Langer’s contract, it would be incumbent on them to explain why and show transparency which has been sorely lacking in the past across a variety of issues.
MORE CRICKET NEWS
AUSSIE ’23 ASHES XI: Return of the chosen one; cult hero among THREE brutal axings
COLUMN: How an emotional Paine post fell on deaf ears and revealed brutal Ashes truth
4-0! Poms ‘throw in the towel’ as ’embarrassing’ 10-56 collapse seals Ashes humiliation
AUS RATINGS: Cult Hero’s 133-Year Freak Show; Smith’s worrying misfire as glaring issue emerges
It has come as no surprise that Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden – all loyal allies of Langer the nuggety Test opener – have come out in vehement support of Langer the coach in recent times. Shane Warne is deep in his corner too after results turned around.
And while the Baggy Green crew may have a degree of natural bias, the broad sentiment is consistent: If a team is improving and winning, the coach should be safe.
As former England captain Michael Vaughan has noted in several columns and TV spots, player power should only go so far.
Langer’s role in reintegrating David Warner and Steve Smith back into the fold should also be taken into account, according to Fox Cricket expert Isa Guha.
“To be able to do that and manage the dynamics deserves a huge amount of credit,” Guha said on Fox Cricket’s Follow-On podcast.
“Not least after a tough series loss to India, listening and evolving as a coach, then taking them on a journey to lifting a T20 World Cup and winning an Ashes in ruthless fashion. He put his ego to one side as pressure was mounting and that deserves a lot of praise.
“He’s taken them to another level, safely reinstated as a likeable and competitive group of men among the Australian public.
“A job well done you might say.”
But the delay is a concern for Langer, who remains sensitive about his position and the criticism that has come his way across the last 11 months.
Unlike the football codes, there isn’t really a competitive market place for Langer, which is why Cricket Australia chief Nick Hockley is in no rush.
In the coming months, overcoming spinner-friendly conditions in the subcontinent and defending a T20 World Cup on home soil presents an array of challenges but from a managerial viewpoint, continuity in messaging should be a non-negotiable.
It would be impractical for Langer to coach the team in Pakistan, only to depart before tours to Sri Lanka and India later in the year. It’s why a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.
Cricket Australia’s decision – presuming Langer does not walk away himself – is a mighty test of Hockley’s leadership, the board’s priorities, and an even bigger examination of the degree to which results truly matter when assessing the performance of a national coach.